from Haile Gerima creator of the video SANKOFA
And so, to me, the politics of African cinema is basically choicelessly leaves African film makers to go towards a combative posture. Internal combativeness and external combativeness. African filmmakers cannot just be passive films but they have to be aggressive films. African filmmakers have to come into the audience to also battle conceptions that have been transplanted, transgrafted into the minds of black people. In their context of beauty, ugliness, evil, and good, we have literally come and make new contractual relationship to communicate our essence. Because if an African audience is expecting a European film, in a European film a love making scene of the European style and all the things have to have those things, then none of our parents our mothers, our fathers, I would never see my mother in movies. And what a loss to the planet.
For society not to enable me, afford me, create the conditions to imperfectly paint my mother, my father. And in the end it inherits the world of violence, in the end a disfigured planet will go after each other. And those who we thought are in charge of us, who snatched our body, become our ultimate enemies to go blow them up wherever we can get them. Fundamentalistically speaking. When one is culturally entrenched and as I see it, most parents in Africa, and they are classified by academicians and scholars as fundamentalists now, well these are black people and our people we just don't know how to defend their children, they just retreating, because the articulaters, the intellectuals have abandoned the battle ground.
In the cultural plane. Most of the elite is saying, "we just need the tractor." I think, "Who's driving the tractor? What is the head?" Even for eating, feeding, sheltering. You know, I have kids, my own kids, I will not feed my kids if they are alien to my life style. I don't care what the standard is. That I would want my kids to read books about my history, my life. As they read theirs also. I would like them to know where I've come from. I don't want them to hate me and hate themselves and still make me serve them to feed them, to work daily. So especially non-intellectually, I mean speaking in terms of people who didn't go to school, universities who didn't have their degrees from Paris to New York, are totally, helplessly against the wall. They don't know how to fight. Because the intelligentsia has failed them.
In filmmaking in African cinema, the intelligentsia, the leadership, if it is a cinema that propagates a propaganda to their government, then it's a cinema. And the sad part of it is, they don't even sit to see it through. Most African intellectuals can't see through a movie. I really know in Africa who really takes film seriously but they drive and park their family in this western cinemas, and then they go to play card or something. And so to me, at least my opinion, the African cinema has to be a struggling cinema when ever it gets to opportunity. Even to say all these slogan wouldn't work. Whenever we have the opportunity that is the time we have to resurrect our memory. Our parents, our ancestors, on screen. To occupy the screen and say, "I am." The grandfather of this kid who made this movie. At least get a piece of my human history.
Now, in African cinema I personally feel, and it's very hard sometimes for me to speak about African films because I am a filmmaker, I've never felt I've made perfect film, but sometimes I dialog has stopped. I'm longing for African film. I was earlier talking about _______________. African filmmakers are no more interesting to me now, I just, within my family I try to just survive, because what has happened is the earlier African filmmakers came out of the (Nukumra), the (Cabral), the fighting intelligentsia and the early older black filmmakers from Africa (Methondos & Ben) they just don't know inside out the role of colonialism, and it's role int he minds of people. They don't judge the symptomatic gestures of people. They go into the motor you know that moves those dangling hands and decisions and sense of desires from sexual desire to everything. We're tempered. Blonde hair. One time I was told was gold dust. Let's face it. Blonde hair is gold dust.
In an African country. This woman said to me she could go straight to the president if she wants to, that's my visa -- blonde hair is gold dust. Another British woman said it to me in Jamaica.
And so our sense of aesthetic, what is a beautiful hair is already taken shape. In African cinema my whole longing was to go to these old black filmmakers of (_____________) to sit around them, and then hear them talk about their movies, what they tried, what failed, what succeeded. Because that's how I was told about how they met and (Walgadugu) started the (Festbachle) film festival. When I began to go into the (Festbachle) festival it was French controlled festival. The new, young (I'm not young but the group that is in my age bracket, are all just desperate filmmakers, young, desperate filmmakers). It is an amazing thing to see a French cultural minister woman walk into a place and see African filmmakers just lose their whole sense of human dignity. Maybe it's the Ethiopian in me, I just feel, what kind of cultural output is going to come from a dehumanized person who has no pride, who's not fighting. What kind of cultural outputs are coming out.
To me, I see this crops of new, young filmmakers from Africa are just living up to the expectation of Europe's assignment, subconsciously or consciously. Now, the tragic aspect of it is that, economically speaking none of these African films have a reciprocal business relationship in Europe. Outside some (___________) film in distribution, most African filmmakers are not distributed. They are usually cannibally consumed in festivals and universities and cultural events presented as exotic side dish, not the steak. You see the little leaf that comes with the steak in these restaurants in American. That's how African films are presented. The don't return any economic benefit to actors, to directors, so they would at least come back and make the postponed story come out alive.
Even from a business perspective, I'm the last person to talk about business, but just the common sense of it, it is mind boggling to just prepare a work in cotton fields, make all the African actors under paid. To begin with we are under paying each other, using each others movie houses. Bribing every customs officer. Unpaying ourselves. Most African filmmakers have no salary. They finish this movie, it goes to Europe and America, it doesn't bring a dollar back. It's so new old colonial in cultural transaction it is unacceptable. But people do it.
Beyond names being mentioned and studied, it has no concrete reciprocal relationship with African cinema in Africa. Now, for me, African cinema for me has always been divided in two for me. One is, I think African cinema is innovative when you think about (___________), (__________) and (________________), I feel that is innovative cinema for me. That is that initiated me. Those are the cinemas that I saw as a student and was really impressed by. Then you have other kinds of cinemas. Cinemas that are reflexes of programmed new old colonial command post. Knee jerk cinema that comes out to just imitate, not innovate, but imitate cinema. In the way cinema has been in the West, even then, doing it mediocrely. And, within that context is also the exotic, or exoticization of African culture. Just depending and alienating everybody.
I've sat with filmmakers with Tokyo to India, if there is a criticism, which I feel is constructive and it helps filmmakers improve, most of the young African filmmakers have cultural justification of saying, "you didn't understand my culture. You've missed the point. You missed the allegory. You missed the symbolism. The metaphor." And we do claim a great deal, concepts does not exist in the actual work. And we always do have also, patronizing colonial sponsorships. To coin exotic concepts endorsing our deficiency, which in return, decapitates the development of African cinema. Because, unchallenged cinema becomes like Hollywood. Hollywood is the most unchallenged cinema. ...it has now reached the stage where the audience and Hollywood are just complimentary, by and large. Outside those who have defected and don't go to movies at all.
What I know across America is that most people say, "I don't go to movies no more." But then there's this very attached breast fed whole population that has reciprocal relationship of all this triteness. Coexists finally, and it's very hard to criticize it, you can killed in some places, and I hope it wouldn't happen here, but I've been in situations where people will take it actually as you just have cursed their mother or father. To just attack any of this foster parents that are foster cultural diets and parents that have been coming through the pipeline of Hollywood.
The African cinema has now reached a stage where there is no discussion that is innovative and challenging and critical. We go unchallenged doing anything we want to do. Not in Africa. In Europe and America. In Africa the audience doesn't even know we exist. In (____________) when was (_______________) opened in Senegal?
Two months ago. I saw his movie in 1970 as a student, in the 70's as a student in California. With white students who walked away angry because they didn't like it, they didn't think it was a movie and they walked away. I was angry. This is a movie, why are they walking out? The cultural sensibility and the first film that made me say, "Speak in your language." I was sitting at that time before (__________) I was writing my script in English because I thought Ethiopian's couldn't speak, in one screen it was illegal for Africans to speak their language, so I was writing script, thinking, and I don't know how many of you know how to think in your language and talk. I mean, you're not getting what I'm saying. Whatever you think of it, because the thought processes is so amazingly different. Most of it is untranslatable. You just learn how to negotiate with language by learning.
So here in his own country, two months ago, a giant, that I think he is, just showed to months ago. So what is African cinema? A cinema whose people, whose grandparents can't see their own son's and daughter's work. So why play? What is the game?
To me the politics of African cinema just outright puts it in the struggle that filmmakers, intellectuals, the intelligentsia, all not this nomadic insignificant filmmaker, but the whole intelligentsia in Africa has to really begin to say, "Yes, food is important. Yes, shelter is important. But, yes, culture is equally as important." Otherwise we're making Africa a continent for donors to bring space raised wheat. African will not raise their own food. In the year 2000 something we will be waiting for Mars to come, the wheat to come.
All Ethiopian African seeds are being transgrafted and taken into food camps and food banks all over Europe and America. Which means someday Ethiopian (_____________) will be made in Ohio, or Oklahoma which is starting already. And Ethiopians wouldn't be able to plant it. I think it can only grow in Ethiopia. It will not be found in Ethiopia. It will be gone. Because Ethiopians culturally will not, and I'll tell you this, Ethiopians especially I'll tell you this, is one arrogant country, in a very positive way sometimes, sometimes in a negative way. Very arrogant country that in a very interesting way, defeated an Italian power in 1886. And so we always grew up as people who defeated the Italians. Every Ethiopian cultural event always is bragging how good they beat up Italians. Unlike some African countries we have just said, "We defeated them before (_______________)." And so there was certain moral and cultural posture that was very arrogant. That the sun set and rose on Ethiopia. My father thought like that. Every time you did his plays and dramatized things it will be gone in Ethiopia as far he's concerned.
It's my generation that was tempered from Kennedy all the way up here, that craved for American culture. It was my generation, through Peace Corps, and I'm not speaking about it negatively only there is a positive aspect to it. I don't want to get shot again. Former Peace Corps get very emotional. They can not pragmatically discuss the colonial aspect of a 21 year old American kid teaching you about (_______________) and George Washington and cherry trees in the middle of Ethiopia! An Ethiopian who's not studying his own culture because he felt his own history is really a backward history, it's only underground now.
In my generation we made Ethiopian culture and underground closet culture. Unlike my father. And my father all his plays were about resistance. And when the Italians were about the come the second round, my father was staging a play. What a nice father to have, when Mussolini was going like this in Rome on the balcony saying, "Those African's are going to get it." And my father was just doing a play. What a civilized juxtaposition. One just, you know, military one a cultural person. Here I am now, not proud of that history, just trying to get John Wayne and Doris Day preoccupy me without (_________) bullet hating Indians and all those cultural manifestations that those movies push.